Pro-Europeans elect a future | By Colin Gordon

Pro-Europeans elect a future

Colin Gordon

April 2, 2023

Europe’s largest pro-EU movement, the European Movement UK (EM-UK), has elected a new leader after its chair Lord Andrew Adonis resigned in December.

The three candidates were former Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake, scientist and campaigner Dr Mike Galsworthy and former newspaper editor and ex-Tory crossbench peer Baroness Patience Wheatcroft.

Galsworthy was already working for EM-UK as a consultant and ambassador; Brake and Wheatcroft had not previously been actively involved with the organisation.

The unpaid chair was directly elected via single transferable vote by the movement’s 17,000 members. On May 22nd, EM-UK announced that Mike Galsworthy had been elected as its new chair, with 53.5% of first-preference votes. Patience Wheatcroft came second with 28.4% and Tom Brake third with 18%. Many EM-UK members and supporters hope the talents and capabilities of the losing candidates can contribute under Dr Galsworthy’s leadership to a dynamic new period of this movement’s activity.

This report briefly reviews this election, the issues it raised, some factors that may have influenced the result and some pointers to future action and progress.

Wheatcroft and Brake, starting from a low base of familiarity with EM-UK, had limited time to develop a future vision and an offer of new leadership for an organization which now also needs to replace its chief executive.

EM-UK sought with some aplomb to manage this uncertain moment, projecting a scenario of friendly competition between excellent, multi-talented alternative candidates and to an extent, the candidates co-operated with this narrative, including by an apparent shared commitment to future co-operation by all three contestants, whatever the outcome of the election.

With that outcome decided, there are early signs that these excellent collaborative intentions are starting to be enacted.

Some variability in tone characterised Wheatcroft’s campaigning style. In an early statement, she complimented the outgoing chief executive, Anna Bird, for building a “brilliant” team and expanding the movement’s membership base. Later during the bustle of the hustings, her campaign began to sound more like a competitive City takeover, pointedly disparaging the performance–in what have been challenging times–of EM-UK’s current and recent leadership.

Her offer was a makeover package comprising an injection of business funding, a rapid media-powered membership expansion and a closer embedding in Westminster contact networks–not an asset of which EM-UK has previously been in noticeably short supply. Money, growth and contacts were expected in this scenario to provide the pro-European campaign with the media breakthrough, visibility and public hearing which it has so regularly been denied and/or has failed to achieve.

Tom Brake was a Liberal Democrat MP from 1997 to 2019, former minister in the Cameron-Clegg coalition and his party’s lead player in the ultimately unsuccessful People’s Vote (PV) campaign. He was subsequently a well- regarded actor in campaigning for democratic renewal and voting reform, personable, capable and respected.

Like Wheatcroft, he had been visibly active in the key period of the PV campaign before Brexit but, like her, was later absent. He focused his election pitch on a checklist of his personal qualifications and capacities, projecting an honest and competent, but not necessarily inspirational offer.

Who in this election had the plan and charisma to take the case for Rejoin to a wider public, which the polls now indicate may be more receptive than for a long time to re-considering the merits of European co-operation? The voice that emerged strongly and, in the event, successfully in the EM-UK election was that of the eventual winner, Mike Galsworthy. 

Galsworthy, who has a distinctive entrepreneurial, scientific and campaigning background, presented a campaign message which communicated passion, inclusivity, empathy and energy. In the final week of the election, Galsworthy published in The New European an extended feature article setting out this vision, accompanied by a separately published business plan.

Galsworthy’s election pitch set out in an engaging voice a vision for the European Movement as an enabling actor in a future narrative for a re-vitalised UK, which he envisages as finding historic renewal and reinvention alongside and in synergy with a return to the EU. One might perhaps object here that the reason why public opinion is now swinging from Brexit to Rejoin is not so much, or at least not yet, the positive appeal of sunlit European uplands, but rather the daily evidence and experience of Brexit-driven failure and decline.

Self-critical remainers or rejoiners often castigate themselves for their ‘negative’ campaigning about the damage of Brexit, which could be cast as ineffective and alienating. But it is the everyday negative reality of Brexit which is now steadily eroding residual public acceptance of Brexit.

The message about the damage of Brexit is one which can and must continue to be to be relentlessly amplified and driven home by the pro-European movement. Galsworthy recognises this, but also rightly stresses the need to present a positive alternative vision. He couches this as a “Great British Return”, a new positive narrative of creative national recovery, invention and renewal. This needs to be imagined, told and shared; he says:

“While we should continue to highlight how Brexit continues to cause damage, we also need to start setting out the positive, inspiring vision of a UK returning energetically to its rightful, leading place in the European family…

It’s time we came back, sober and wiser, having banished our worst elements. It’s time we returned from the wilderness, with a clearer sense of the role we can and should play in the cohesion, security, values and direction of our continent…

‘Rejoin’ by itself is a word that may inspire us, but for others we will need to paint that picture of what it means in terms of opportunity, identity, significance, culture, excitement – and for ourselves, our children and the world around us. Those visions need to be married up with all the hopes of all the communities, demographics, cultures, sectors and localities in the UK. We are a beautiful fabric and our future vision must be woven for all.”

The damage and impoverishment inflicted on the UK by Brexit has not only been economic, but also cognitive, moral and emotional. The failure of Brexit is being wilfully aggravated by a failing and discredited government digging us deeper into a Trumpian pit of culture wars, polarisation, and whipping up hate and fear of a manufactured alien threat, the ‘illegal’ refugee.

We are certainly better than this, but our moral regeneration as a nation must also include an active policy for a national recovery of the imagination. Saying this clearly and offering, as Mike Galsworthy has done, a draft of a sketch of such a new national scenario may be an important, possibly even historic first step.

Note from the author: This article expresses the author’s opinion only. It is not written on behalf or in the name of any other person, organisation or campaign.

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